Polls may show that a majority of Americans now favor the legalization of marijuana, but the American Medical Association – the nation’s largest medical group – still considers cannabis a “dangerous drug” that should not be legalized for either recreational or medical use.
The AMA’s House of Delegates voted this week not to adopt an amendment proposed by a delegation from California that would have taken a “neutral stance” on the legalization of marijuana. It also voted against a proposal to support the sale of marijuana in states where it is already legal.
The House of Delegates is the main policy-making body of the AMA.
“The AMA today reiterated the widely held scientific view that marijuana is dangerous and should not be legalized,” said Stuart Gitlow, MD, Chair-Elect of the AMA Council on Science and Health and President of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
“We can only hope that the public will listen to science – not ‘Big Marijuana’ interests who stand to gain millions of dollars from increased addiction rates.”
The House of Delegates called for more efforts to discourage marijuana use, especially by young people, and said more research was needed to determine the consequence of long-term cannabis use.
The AMA did adopt a provision saying that “public health based strategies, rather than incarceration, should be utilized in the handling of individuals possessing cannabis.”
It also amended language about the so-called war on drugs to “acknowledge that federal efforts to address illicit drug use via supply reduction and enforcement have been ineffective.”
“The American Medical Association took a bold step today, and they should be commended,” said former Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy, co-founder of Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM), which opposes legalization.
“By explicitly rejecting calls to neutralize their anti-legalization position, they are sending a loud and powerful message to state and local decision makers, the Federal government, and the general public that to be on the side of science is to oppose efforts to expand marijuana use and addiction.”
The AMA’s action comes one week after the American Psychiatric Association released a statement outlining the public health harms of marijuana.
“There is no current scientific evidence that marijuana is in any way beneficial for the treatment of any psychiatric disorder. In contrast, current evidence supports, at minimum, a strong association of cannabis use with the onset of psychiatric disorders. Adolescents are particularly vulnerable to harm, given the effects of cannabis on neurological development,” the statement said.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have already legalized the medical use of marijuana. Last year Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use. Advocates of marijuana legalization in California are planning a statewide ballot initiative in 2014 to also legalize the drug for recreational use.
Both medical and recreational use of marijuana technically remain illegal under federal law, although the U.S. Justice Department recently said it would not rigorously enforce the law in states where it is legal, provided that those states enforce rules on the drug’s sale and distribution.